VENTURA COUNTY FAIR : A Fairway Into 'California Country'

TIMES STAFF WRITER

It's the time of year, deep in the unforgiving heat of August, for sticky pink cotton candy smeared across young mouths, for livestock dozing lazily in long, narrow pens, for barkers enticing passersby to spend a quarter on the ring toss, a dollar on the dart throw.

The Ventura County Fair is coming to town Wednesday, bringing a few changes, but mostly the same as it's always been, give or take a few exhibits and contests.

In a day of high tech and high speed, Ventura County's annual fair satisfies patrons by staying close to the roots and traditions that created it.

"The changes we've made reflect the polishing of the program," said Teri Raley, who with her husband, Devlin, manages publicity for the fair each year. "I think the public wants to preserve the fair with its traditional family focus."

Like last year, fair admission will be $6 for adults, $3 for those 55 and older and children 6 to 12 years old, and free for children under 6.

Minor though they are, changes in the fair schedule will cause some flutter among visitors, Raley said.

For instance, Metrolink will expand its weekend schedule between Simi Valley and the fairgrounds, allowing rail commuters to stay even longer at the festivities.

Fiesta Day, the Latin American-themed day that also commands the fair's highest daily attendance, has been rescheduled from the last day of the fair to Aug. 21, the fair's first Sunday, to better showcase it.

"We moved it to earlier in the fair because it's not a P.S.," Raley said. "It's a wonderful cultural part of the fair."

And if the move boosts overall fair attendance by enticing Fiesta Day visitors back before the fair closes down, that will be another plus, she said.

In addition, the fair beauty pageant is now planned for opening day instead of before the fair starts.

The fair will also feature three new contests: a shaving cream hat contest, a Hacky Sack contest and a stick horse contest.

To avoid crowds, fair officials advise attending on weekdays that are not special theme days.

In 1994, the theme days are Salute to the Military on Thursday (military personnel and their families admitted free), Youth Day on Friday (children 12 and under admitted free), and Seniors and Persons with Disabilities Day on Aug. 23 (visitors 55 and older and disabled people admitted free).

What really stirs people up, Raley said, is when they march over to a building to view their favorite exhibit, and it's been switched to another facility.

This year, among other switches, the photography exhibit will move from the Gem and Minerals Building to the McBride Building, where other fine arts are displayed.

"A lot of people will be shaken up by that," Raley said. "But then they'll get to the McBride Building, and they will see it in a whole different light."

The innovation stirring some of the most curiosity this year is the fair's theme for 1994: "California Country."

California Country?

Few seem to know quite what to make of it.

"The way I interpret California Country is this concept of a very nice, relaxed, country atmosphere," said Steve Rubenstein, president of the Conejo Valley Chamber of Commerce, who is scratching his head over the phrase. "But knowing the area, it kind of confuses me. (The fairgrounds are) right next to the beach. What kind of country is that?"

Debby Pond, who displays the official fair poster on the window of her Ventura cellular phone store, also grasped to define the slogan.

"California Country," she mused. "Well, when you think of California, you think of free and easy and ocean. So the fair would be California Country? See, I don't know. I don't know what you get out of it.

"California-Country-by-the-Sea, or something maybe like that?"

The confusion excites fair officials, who say the new theme is meant to stretch people's minds.

"I think that's one of the most delightful thing about this year's theme--it makes you think," said Devlin Raley. "That's what the fair is about--individual expression."

Devlin Raley works with the fair's board of directors every year to plan the event and concoct a slogan worthy of the spinning Ferris wheel and crowing roosters.

This year, he said, the committee was struck by the variety of life in California, not to mention in Ventura County.

"Life within Ventura County is diverse, very traditional, and yet very modern and upscale," he said. "And that gives a whole new meaning to the word country .

"I mean, what kind of country is it?" he said. "It's California Country!"

Fair Highlights

Here are some of the major events scheduled during the Ventura County Fair:

Wednesday, Aug. 17

11 a.m. Fair opens.

1:30 p.m. All-Alaskan Racing Pigs--squealing hogs who run around a track, lured by a chocolate chip cookie--chase their first tollhouse treat of the year at Porker Flats.

2 p.m. Contestants gather at the Children's Dell to see who will be the first to gulp down a whole baby bottle's worth of unsweetened lemon juice.

5 p.m. The Ventura County Fair Queen Pageant begins on the Miller Stage.

7:30 p.m. Hal Ketchum and Carlene Carter in concert at the Grandstand.

9:30 p.m. Fireworks, which close out every day of the fair.

Aug. 18

Salute to the military. All military personnel and their families admitted free.

1 p.m. Tricycle pull (a miniaturized version of a tractor pull, for 3- to 7-year-olds only) at the Children's Dell.

2:30 p.m. Amateur spaghetti sauce chefs concoct their own creations in the Home Arts Kitchen.

7 p.m. Sprint car racing at the Grandstand Arena. Jazz musician A.J. Croce on the Miller Stage.

Aug. 19

Youth day. Children 12 and under admitted free.

All day. Scavenger hunt

1:30 p.m. Pie lovers compete at the Pepsi Community Stage to see who can consume the most pie in 60 seconds. No hands allowed.

3 p.m. Children make kites at the Youth Building and compete to see whose looks and soars best.

7 p.m. Stock car racing and demolition derby at the Grandstand Arena. Marshall Tucker Band in concert at the Miller Stage.

Aug. 20

10 a.m. Ventura County Fair Parade begins on Main Street in Ventura.

1:30 p.m. Babies 18 months and younger toddle and crawl across the Pepsi Community Stage in the annual Diaper Derby.

2 p.m. County residents whip up their favorite chocolate cake recipes in the Home Arts Kitchen for the Chocolate Cake To Die For Contest.

7 p.m. Audio Adrenaline in concert on the Miller Stage.

Aug. 21

Fiesta Day

1 p.m. The Junior Fair Board will judge which mother / daughter, father / son, mixed and twin pairs look most alike, on the Pepsi Community Stage.

3 p.m. The Fiesta Show with Chelo, Grupo Ladron, Banda Maguey, Banda Llaneros, Los Sepultureros, Banda Toros, Banda Durango and Grupo Romance.

Aug. 22

Noon. Amateur and professional pizza-making contest in the Home Arts Kitchen.

7 p.m. A Tribute to Elvis on the Miller Stage

7:30 p.m. The Temptations in concert at the Grandstand Arena.

Aug. 23

People 55 and older and anyone with a disability admitted free.

12:30 p.m. Senior Dance Contest on the Pepsi Community Stage.

1:30 p.m. Senior Queen Pageant follows dance contest on the Pepsi Community Stage.

7:30 p.m. All 4 One and Zhane in concert at the Grandstand Arena.

Aug. 24

1:30 p.m. Limbo contest on the Pepsi Community Stage.

7:30 p.m. Tanya Tucker in concert at the Grandstand Arena.

Aug. 25

3 p.m. Hula Hoop contest in the Youth Building.

6 p.m. Hog Calling Contest at the Clark Pavilion.

7:30 p.m. Taylor Dayne in concert at the Grandstand Arena.

Aug. 26

9 a.m. Junior Livestock Auction begins. The order of sale is chickens and rabbits, calves, steers, swine, lambs and goats.

3:30 p.m. Contestants vie to produce the best green and pasta salads in the Home Arts Kitchen.

7 p.m. The rodeo starts at the Grandstand Arena.

Aug. 27

Noon. Amateur and professional chefs brew up chili in the annual Chili Cook-Off at Porker Flats.

2 p.m and 7 p.m. Rodeo at the Grandstand Arena.

3:30 p.m. Arm-wrestling competitions on the Pepsi Community Stage

7 p.m. Gary Puckett in concert on the Miller Stage.

Aug. 28

9 a.m. 4-H awards.

1 p.m. Children ages 3 to 8 ride broomstick horses around barrels at Porker Flats in the Stick Horse Barrel Racing contest.

2 p.m. and 7 p.m. Rodeo at the Grandstand Arena.

7 p.m. The Coasters in concert at the Miller Stage.

9:30 p.m. Fair closes out with a fireworks display.

10 p.m. Fair ends for the year.

Metrolink Schedule

Departure and arrival times for Metrolink trains to the Ventura County Fair on Aug. 20, 21, 27 and 28. Fares are $6 round-trip from Simi Valley and Moorpark, and $4 round-trip from Camarillo and Oxnard. All stations and trains are wheelchair-accessible. For information, call (800) 438-1112.

Northbound

Simi Valley 9:30 a.m. 10:25 a.m. 12:05 p.m. 1:10 p.m. 3:55 p.m. 8:05 p.m. Moorpark 9:47 a.m. 10:42 a.m. 12:22 p.m. 1:27 p.m. 4:12 p.m. 8:22 p.m. Camarillo 10:01 a.m. 10:56 a.m. 12:36 p.m. 1:41 p.m. 4:26 p.m. 8:36 p.m. Oxnard 10:15 a.m. 11:10 a.m. 12:50 p.m. 1:55 p.m. 4:40 p.m. 8:50 p.m. Ventura 10:30 a.m. 11:25 a.m. 1:05 p.m. 2:10 p.m. 4:55 p.m. 9:05 p.m

Southbound

Ventura 10:36 a.m. 11:31 a.m. 2:33 p.m. 5:15 p.m. 6:50 p.m. 10:15 p.m. Oxnard 11:58 a.m. ---- 2:47 p.m. 5:29 p.m. 7:04 p.m. 10:29 p.m. Camarillo ---- ---- 2:59 p.m. 5:41 p.m. 7:16 p.m. 10:41 p.m. Moorpark 11:36 a.m. 12:48 p.m. 3:10 p.m. 5:52 p.m. 7:27 p.m. 10:52 p.m. Simi Valley 11:51 a.m. 1:03 p.m. 3:25 p.m. 6:07 p.m. 7:42 p.m. 11:07 p.m.

Source: Metrolink

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